I’m wild again
A simpering, whimpering child again
Bewitched, bothered and bewildered am I.
From the Broadway show “Pal Joey,”
Rodgers and Hart
(Click here or on the image below to treat yourself to the silken sound of Ella Fitzgerald.)
The ManagementSpeak argument for working with passion is that disengagement is expensive and risky: it compromises products and services, generates client and customer dissatisfaction, stirs up co-worker resentment and mistrust, impairs leadership judgment, exposes the firm and the people in it to ethical and legal hazards.
The Compassionate ManagementSpeak (if there is such a thing) argument is that disengagement wears down human beings: it makes us unhappy and unproductive at work, and sours the rest of life.
The Working With Passion Remedy is that we need to fall in love again — with work, to be sure, but if we do, we’ll probably also fall in love again with being alive. The company wins, and so do the people in it.
Trouble is, there’s a joker in the deck: the part about love. Love involves an unpredictable mix of brain and body hormones that generate its familiar delights and dark sides. This article from Harvard catalogues the hormonal progression from lust to love to long-term bonding: testosterone, estrogen, vasopressin, dopamine, norepinephrine, serotonin, oxytocin. The dynamic blend of these volatile hormones accounts for both delight and disaster. Not only that, but falling in love can “turn off regions in our brain that regulate critical thinking, self-awareness, and rational behavior, including parts of the prefrontal cortex. In short, love makes us dumb.”
The Dark Side of Dumb includes addiction and bipolar disorder — both of which involve a condition known as “mania.” According to the Mayo Clinic, mania is characterized by:
- Feeling abnormally upbeat, jumpy or wired.
- Increased activity, energy or agitation.
- Exaggerated sense of well-being and self-confidence (euphoria).
- Decreased need for sleep.
There’s more, but if we’re desperate, just that much makes us think what’s not to like? It sure beats the usual drudge. What have we got to lose?
A lot, actually. Passion turns us into high risk takers at best, delusional risk takers at worst. We go to a workshop (like the ones I used to lead), we take a vacation, go on a retreat, read a self-help bestseller… and we get a hormonal jolt of inspiration. It feels good — way better than business as usual, in fact so good that no amount of warning (I also gave plenty of those in my workshops) can deter us from taking the plunge.
I’ve done it myself: I was in the grip of it when I made my bumbling exit out of law practice. I wrote a book about that experience, and here’s what I said about mania:
When we’re in [a state of mania], life has a heightened sense of meaning and purpose, serendipity and synchronicity rule the day, and everything in and around us is an amazing unified oneness – perfect, whole, and complete. It’s the place where auspicious connections are easily made, where imagination makes visions and dreams come true.
Neuroscientists locate that state of mind in the brain’s prefrontal cortex. That’s where the brain tells us all is well, where all of our perceptions come together into a meaningful whole, in a happy stew of the right hormones and chemicals in the right balance to make us feel really, really good.
Compare that to the opposite state of depression, where all is disjointed, fragmented, without meaning or purpose, where social bonds are severed and life is a random walk of disintegration, where the most basic life activities are burdensome, and fruitfulness is a pipedream.
But watch out, the neuroscientists tell us: you can have too much of a good thing. Get the wrong mix in your neurotransmitter soup, and your natural high can be replaced with delusion, hallucinations, paranoia, schizophrenia, obsessive compulsive disorder, Tourette’s Disease, addictions.
Not the prettiest list.
That’s why mania is plutonium for the for human soul: powerful almost beyond measure, equally suited to creation or destruction, and tricky to control once we let it loose. But dark side or not, mania is why we dream big dreams, and the bigger they are, the more mania we need. If we want to make our dreams come true, we risk mania’s dark side.
“Mania is plutonium for the human soul.”
Love risks mania, so does working with passion. Both create, both destroy. That doesn’t mean don’t go there, just keep your eyes open if you do. I don’t regret my personal Working With Passion Remedy, you might not regret yours either.
But then again, you might. And now you’ve been warned.
You also hear about finding your calling or purpose in your work as a cure for the disengagement blues. We’ll talk about that next time.
I tell my mania story in Life Beyond Reason: A Memoir of Mania. It’s available as a free download here, or you can get it inexpensively in print or digitally from Amazon here. I’m currently writing a sequel about how I’ve been learning to make mania safe and sustainable.
 “Love, Actually: The Science Behind Lust, Attraction, And Companionship,” Katherine Wu, Harvard Graduate School of Arts and Sciences website ( Feb. 14, 2017).